Review: Villette

By Yvette Huddleston

Part of West Yorkshire Playhouse’s Brontë season, this bold reimagining of Charlotte Brontë’s final novel may not appeal to the purists – there isn’t a bonnet in sight – but as a piece of powerful new writing it certainly gets my vote.

Playwright Linda Marshall Griffiths sets the action in a post-apocalyptic future and Brontë’s lonely governess heroine Lucy Snowe becomes a brilliant, dedicated virologist working towards a cure for a catastrophic pandemic that has decimated the world’s population. She joins a team on an archaeological dig searching for the remains of the Lady of Villette who may hold the key to combatting the virus.

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The play remains true to many of the themes of Brontë’s original – isolation, longing, unrequited love – and here Lucy’s social awkwardness is neatly explained by the fact that she is a clone, the sole survivor of three ‘sisters’. (In a nod to the grief-stricken state in which Charlotte wrote Villette, following the deaths of Emily and Anne, the clone siblings are called ‘Esme’ and ‘Ashe’).

Laura Elsworthy’s eye-catching central performance – at turns forthright, watchful, hesitant and vulnerable – conveys Lucy’s inner turmoil brilliantly and a strong ensemble cast – Philip Cairns, Nana Amoo-Gottfied, Amelia Donkor and Catherine Cusack – lend excellent support.

Mark Rosenblatt’s accomplished production draws the audience in to an engaging narrative that contains enough references to events and characters in the novel to add a satisfying extra layer for those who have read it and may well inspire newcomers to the story to seek it out.

At West Yorkshire Playhouse to October 15.